Addictive Discoveries

Addiction linked to heightened dopamine D3 levels

(RxWiki News) Canadian researchers used innovative techniques in their research of mental illness, leading to an exciting new discovery.

Investigators at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) identified a potential treatment target for methamphetamine addicts while using a chemical probe developed by the facility.

The probe reacted to responses in the dopamine levels of meth addicts that were not apparent in those without the addiction.

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Although the knowledge that dopamine plays a role in addiction is hardly novel, the center is the first to pinpoint a location.  Isabelle Boileau, Ph.D., a scientist at CAMH and lead author on the study, explains, “This is the first time, to our knowledge, that anyone has shown that D3 receptor levels are high in people with an active addiction to methamphetamine.”

CAMH is the first Canadian facility to use positron emission tomography (PET), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and imaging-genetics to investigate mental and behavioral illnesses. Additionally, the center developed their novel chemical probe, entitled 11C-(+)-PHNO, to monitor brain activity linked to psychiatric discomfort. 

In combination with PET scans, which provide 3D images of the brain, the probe provides the first opportunity for researchers to study D3 receptors. Scientists are hopeful that this may answer some questions about its role in addiction.

Dr. Boileau and her team made their discovery while monitoring D3 levels in sixteen known methamphetamine addicts. Although the participants had abstained from meth use for the two-weeks prior to testing, their D3 levels were significantly higher when compared to sixteen individuals without addiction.

Boileau notes her team is interested in studying the role of D3 in various addictions and not solely methamphetamine.

"We can now suggest that any therapeutic approach aimed at increasing activity with D2 receptors should consider being selective at targeting D2, and not increasing D3 levels," she expresses. "Our finding also supports the idea that D3 should be considered another target for anti-craving medications."

Future studies and testing will determine potential treatments for addiction, and with luck, Dr. Boileau's proposed anti-craving medication will come sooner rather than later.

Review Date: 
January 25, 2012